Taking the JLPT N1 for the first time!

I have taken the JLPT N1 on July 7th (2019) for the first time, and I was not very surprised by my performance… I think that I might pass, but I also feel that I need the remaining months until December to increase my vocabulary and progress in listening.

Report on the July test


I found that the vocabulary part was not as hard as the drills I have been doing recently. I think that the Korean textbooks and drills that I use tend to be very demanding so that students are well prepared.

During the real test on Sunday, I was surprised to see that the vocabulary part was not that hard. I don’t mean that I answered everything right, of course, there were a lot of words that I didn’t know, and I picked several answers randomly. But I also felt that a little more work on vocabulary will be sufficient to ensure a good mark in that section.

The most surprising part of the whole test was the grammar section. I felt that all the grammar points that I had learned for N1 were more or less useless… I expected the test to challenge us on those grammar points (the ones that are labelled N1, and that you can find in the So-matome), but it was not really the case.

Before the test, I had been working with the 『日本語パワードリルN1文法』and these drills stay very close to the textbook So-matome. Each question clearly identifies one of the grammar patterns you have learned in So-matome. If you know your patterns well, it is very easy to answer the drills.

Duritng the test, however, I didn’t find many questions relative to N1 grammar points. The questions were more about your general knowledge of Japanese grammar. It is hard to explain, but instead of knowing 150 grammar points, it would have been best to have a very good and thorough understand of Japanese grammatical structure. More than identifying grammar points, you have to understand perfectly what each of the answers mean, and choose the right one to fit in the sentence.

As a consequence, you could say that the grammar part was easier than expected. I may be wrong, but my feeling during the test was that a student preparing for N2 could answer the questions. On the other hand, this is not what I prepared for, so I felt both confused and unprepared.

I think that going through textbooks of grammar is necessary but not enough. You need to be a lot in contact with Japanese to gain a sense of what is right and false. I felt that this N1 grammar section was not about how many grammar points you know, but more about how well you understand Japanese.


I found the texts of the reading section not too difficult, except for one or two. What I really found hard were the questions.

When I took N2, I would read the text only once, then read the questions (I always read the text before the questions). I remember that I could answer the questions without returning to the text. This means that one answer was obviously right and the others wrong.

I tried to do the same for N1, but it didn’t work. I read the text once slowly, but when I read the question and the answers, I found that several answers could be the right one. So I had to return to the text and re-read several passages before I could choose one answer. And even then, I was not sure if I had picked the good one because sometimes, two answers were obviously the right one??


Listening is my weak point, so there is no surprise here. I could not understand some of the dialogues (this means that I wasn’t sure of what they were talking about), and even when I understood the dialogues, I would often miss the crucial information to answer the question.

The most difficult part by far is the part where you hear the questions and answers after hearing the dialogues. I think that I picked everything randomly in this section! 

I also find the listening section more stressful because it seemed to me that all the other test takers in the room were choosing their answer right after the audio had stopped playing while I was still trying to remember what had been said in the dialogues!


Time was not a problem as I had ten minutes left at the end of the vocab-grammar-reading section so I could go back to some previous questions and double check my answers.

How to improve and get a better score in December?

I will take a two-weeks break, and then I will be back to my JLPT preparation. My goal is to get a good score in December. (Actually, my real goal is to improve my Japanese, and I use the JLPT to achieve this goal.) So how should I study during the four remaining months?


There is no shortcut here, the more words you know, the easier it will be to pass this section. I will continue to learn vocabulary as I have been doing, looking for example sentences in the dictionary and systematically learning the words in context, which means, adding sentences to Anki instead of words only.


Instead of trying to learn even more N1 grammar points, I should focus on reviewing the N2 and even N3 grammar and be sure that I feel at ease with it. I will also try to be more attentive when I am reading in Japanese, and analyse why I don’t understand a sentence. I think that this kind of exercise will be useful to pass the grammar section of the JLPT.


I don’t know what I can do to improve my reading, because it was not the texts that I found difficult, but the questions. I am sure I would find them as difficult if they were in English! (And I wouldn’t be surprised if native speakers of Japanese said that the reading section of the JLPT N1 was difficult…) Maybe I should buy the Shin Kanzen textbook for reading and study with it?


Here again, no shortcut: I must listen to more Japanese! I feel very motivated to take on the challenge and try to improve my listening level before December. I don’t think that the dialogues use words that I don’t know, I think that the problem is that I just don’t recognise the words that I am supposed to know. Practice is key!

This is it for my JLPT report! I don’t know if I will pass, but I am confident that I will be able to pass in December if I study accordingly until then!

I will be away for two weeks, and I will be back to studying Japanese on Monday 22th! (And I will certainly post a book review in the meanwhile!)

7 thoughts on “Taking the JLPT N1 for the first time!

  1. I’m sure you passed… why did you sign up for 2 tests?? i like gauging my progress by using native material. like for Spanish, i sporadically listen to spanish youtube vids so that I can listen to them months later to see how much i improved etc. i remember when i first heard this mexican vlogger i could only pick out a few words here and there since she talks so fast but now i understand her much better. I’m sure you have stuff like that for japanese https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eWnE-cOGnOI https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ruf08h_kscE

    also it sounds like you won’t succeed with your listening goals again since it sounds exactly like whatever you wrote last time. you should to try find something you really like that happens to involve audio like a tv show or music even (it’s better than listening to no Japanese). enjoyable, compelling content is out there so you don’t need to settle.

    I thought since your impression of the test was that it’s testing you on your understanding of Japanese grammar rather than specific uncommon grammar points, you’d just abandon all the books and just read/listen to Japanese stuff you like. Maybe it’d help you if you asked questions about sentences or words or grammar that you come across in books/articles/etc you don’t understand on chiebukuro or reddit etc. I personally used chiebukuro when i came across stuff like that while reading if it really piqued my interest and getting an answer (especially a Japanese person explaining in Japanese) definitely deepened my understanding of Japanese grammar that just mass-readin/watching/dictionaries (j-j and j-e) can’t give me.

    1. Thank you for your advice! I started to watch anime on Netflix, I wasn’t much into anime before but I start to enjoy it so I hope it will help! I have also discovered Radiotalk, it’s great to listen to Japanese. It’s a place where anyone can record an audio, like a podcast, and upload it. There are tags so it’s easier to find talks that interest me. I hope it will help, and as you say, I will try to focus more on real Japanese than on textbooks.

  2. Congrats on sitting the test, no matter the outcome! Your reading experienced mirrors mine – I could usually throw out an answer or two, but the correct answer wasn’t clear. It’s that whole “best answer” thing, so frustrating.

    And yes, listening is a whole different ballgame without kanji for hints! I make audio Anki cards for work – so many medical words make perfect sense on paper but boggle the mind when said aloud. こうじのうきのう(高次脳機能)、I’m looking at you! 😂 Once you wake up the listening muscle in your brain (to be un-medical for a moment, ha) you’ll be fine. Enjoy your break!

    1. Thank you very much for your comment!!

      “Wake up the listening muscle in your brain”, haha, said like that, it sounds like an attainable goal! I feel ultra motivated to do it!! 😄

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